This guest post is by behavioural psychologist and author Susan Weinschenk (aka ‘The Brain Lady’). The original version of this article was published on The Brain Lady Blog, and has been republished here with the author’s permission.
Are you good with people? Do you know how to get them to do stuff? Are you using tips and techniques you picked up from others or experimented with?
If so, I bet that sometimes your strategies work and other times they don’t.
There are seven basic drivers of human motivation. And if you understand what motivates people you’ll be better able to figure out how to get people to do stuff.
The Need to Belong
Have you ever felt left out? Not part of a group you wanted to be part of? It probably made you feel sad, depressed or angry, or all of the above.
We are ultimately social animals, and our desire to connect with others is a strong, innate drive. We’re not meant to live alone, and we’ll work hard to be socially accepted. We need to feel that we have a place in the world where we belong.
You can use the need to belong, and the longing for connectedness, to get people to do stuff.
- If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: ‘Be a donor’ versus ‘Donate now’ – it results in more people taking action. That’s because nouns invoke group identity.
- People are more likely to comply with a request if they trust you.
- The best way to get others to trust you is to first show that you trust them.
It might surprise you to learn how much of everything we do in a typical day we do out of habit without even thinking about it. We don’t even remember how those habits got formed.
We hear so much about how it takes months to create a new habit. How could that be, when we seem to have created hundreds of them easily without even realizing it?
It turns out that it’s actually very easy to create a new habit or even change an existing one, if you understand the science behind habit formation. You can use the science of habits to help other people create or change habits, so you can get them to do stuff. Here’s a little bit of information about the science of habits:
- The easiest way to create a new habit is to anchor it to an existing habit.
- If you use anchoring you can get people to create a new habit in less than a week.
- An important part of getting someone to create a new habit is to break things into really small steps.
The Power of Stories
What kind of person are you? Are you someone who helps those in need? Do you keep up on the latest trends and fashions? Are you a family person who spends time and energy to nurture family relationships?
We all have self-personas. We tell ourselves, and other people, stories about who we are and why we do what we do. Some of our self-personas and our stories are conscious, but others are largely unconscious.
If you understand these self-personas, then you can communicate in a way that matches those self-stories and thereby get people to do stuff. For example:
- If you can get people to take one small action that is in conflict with one of their self-personas, that one small step can eventually lead to big behavior change.
- You can prompt someone to change their own story by having other people share their stories. If someone hears the right story you can get people to change their own self-stories in as little as 30 minutes and that one change can alter their behavior for a lifetime.
- Writing something down (in longhand, not typing) activates certain parts of the brain and makes it more likely that people will commit to what they wrote.
Carrots and Sticks
Have you ever been to a casino? Think about this: You spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to do stuff; you may even offer rewards or pay people to do stuff. And yet a casino gets people to pay them!
Casinos understand the science of reward and reinforcement. Here are just a few things the science of reward and reinforcement tells us about how to get people to do stuff:
- If you want consistent behavior don’t reward people every time they do something, just some of the time.
- People are more motivated to reach a goal the closer they get to it.
- When you punish someone it only works for a little while. Giving rewards is more effective than punishment.
Imagine you’re driving down the road and there’s an accident ahead. You tell yourself not to slow down and look, and yet you feel the irresistible urge to do exactly that.
Being fascinated by danger is one of our basic instincts. Instincts are strong and largely unconscious. They affect our behavior. Sometimes you can get people to do stuff just by tapping into these instincts. For example:
- People are more motivated by fear of losing than the possibility of gaining something.
- We are basically all ‘control freaks’. The desire to control starts as young as 4 months old.
- When people are sad or scared they will want is familiar. If they’re happy and comfortable they’ll crave something new.
The Desire for Mastery
Even stronger than giving an external reward is the desire for mastery. People are very motivated to learn and master skills and knowledge.
Certain situations encourage a desire for mastery, and others dampen the desire for mastery. You can use what we know from the research on mastery to set up conditions that will encourage and stimulate the desire for mastery, and, by doing so, get people to do stuff. For example:
- Giving people autonomy over what they are doing will stimulate them to master a skill and will motivate them to work harder.
- If people feel that something is difficult they will be more motivated to do it.
- Don’t mix praise with feedback if you want to stimulate the desire for mastery. Just give objective feedback.
Tricks of the Mind
You’ve probably seen visual illusions—where your eye and brain think they’re seeing something different than they really are.
What you may not realize is that there are cognitive illusions, too. There are several biases in how we think. Our brains are wired to jump to quick conclusions.
This is useful in reacting quickly to our environment, but sometimes these fast conclusions and decisions lead to cognitive illusions. You can use these tricks of the mind to get people to do stuff. For example:
- If you mention money then people become more independent and less willing to help others.
- People filter out information they don’t agree with, but you can get past those filters by first agreeing with them.
- People are more likely to do something if you can get them to phrase it as a question to themselves (‘Will I exercise each week?’) than if you get them to say a declarative statement (‘I will exercise each week.’)
If you understand what motivates people, then you can change and modify what you do, what you offer, and how and what you ask of people.
You can change your strategies and tactics to get people to do stuff.
Dr. Susan Weinschenk has a Ph.D. in Psychology and over 30 years of experience as a behavioural psychologist. She applies psychology and brain science research to predict, understand, and explain how people think, work, and how to persuade and motivate people to take action. She is the founder of the Weinschenk Institute, and author of several books including ‘How To Get People To Do Stuff’ and ‘100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People’.